The best MFT programs

Education - Grad HatHow to choose the best MFT programs (master’s and doctoral) for your needs. Originally published August 2009; updated January 2013 and September 2014.

Aspiring MFTs have lots of options — there are more than 100 COAMFTE-accredited programs around the US, and about 80 license-eligible MFT programs (accredited and not) in California — for graduate school. How should you go about choosing the school that is right for you?

Unfortunately, objective information about graduate schools in MFT is hard to come by. Programs will naturally put their best foot forward on their own web sites and promotional materials, highlighting those traits that make the program look best while downplaying those that make it look less appealing. This information is valuable, but difficult to objectively compare. What else should you consider when choosing your MFT program?

I am happy to report that COAMFTE — the Commission on Accreditation for Marriage and Family Therapy Education — is requiring its accredited programs to gather much more data than in the past about how their graduates have performed in terms of licensure and the job market. You may want to consider asking programs for that data, to whatever degree they make it public (and in my mind, they should make it public). Even with objective data, though, the selection of a graduate program is a deeply personal choice. No one else can tell you what the best program for you will be. Outlined here are a number of factors to consider. They are not listed in any particular order, as individual circumstances will dictate what becomes the highest priority. For some students, quality of education outweighs all else. For others, geography and cost will be more important.

  • Performance. I called this “quality” before, but I think that’s too vague and subjective of a term. Programs should be able to actually demonstrate their quality in measurable achievements, including achievements by the program itself (like accreditation), achievements by the faculty (like publications or leadership roles in the field), and achievements by students (like licensing exam pass rates and employment rates).
  • Accreditation. As I’ve previously documented, MFT accreditation matters. Around most of the country, MFT students generally know this; in California, MFT students generally do not know this. Most states specifically require that your degree come from a COAMFTE-accredited program. (More than 30 states use COAMFTE as the educational standard for MFT licensure.) Some will allow you to demonstrate “equivalency” with COAMFTE standards, but that is often no easy task. If you want to work as an MFT with the Department of Veterans Affairs, or if you want to be eligible as an MFT for student loan reimbursement through the National Health Service Corps, you must have a COAMFTE-accredited degree; equivalency is not accepted.
  • Location. Generally speaking, you should attend a program in the same state where you intend to eventually become licensed. This is important because states have varying requirements for the education and supervised experience MFTs must have prior to licensure; schools in any given state are most likely to teach to the standards of that state, and classes in areas like law and ethics will prepare you for licensure exams in that state.
  • Cost. When it comes to graduate school, cost questions are complex. It is not a simple matter of asking, “How much is the tuition?” Other factors, like scholarships, grants, work-study programs, and other financial aid must be considered, and can vary considerably from one school to the next. In addition, some areas (including California) now have loan reimbursement programs for MFTs who commit to working in public mental health or underserved areas. The next two factors also relate fairly directly to the cost of graduate education.
  • Time to degree. Some programs are very intensive, to get you through your master’s degree in the minimum time possible. Shorter programs mean you will be working as an MFT Intern sooner, and also are likely to be licensed sooner. This is significant for those who have finances as a concern. However, shorter is not always better. If you want to continue working full-time while you earn your master’s degree, talk with potential programs about whether this is an option there, and how you may structure classes differently so you are not overwhelmed with the workload.
  • Time to licensure. Outside of California, most programs require 500 hours of face-to-face client contact with clients in order to graduate. Within California, however, many programs require far less — as little as 225 hours (technically just 150, for reasons more complex than are worth explaining here). While this at first may appear to be a plus (it tends to decrease the time to degree), it also means you will spend much, much more time working as an MFT Intern prior to being eligible to sit for the licensing exams. Students in California may graduate with as few as about 270, or as many as 1,300, hours of experience toward the license already completed. That’s a huge range, and can mean a year or more of time lost or gained prior to licensure. (You may also want to review my earlier post on how long it takes to get an MFT license.)
  • Personal fit. The values and philosophies of MFT programs vary widely, with some taking a strong social activism approach, and others abiding by a particular treatment model. It is important that your own personal views of family not be in conflict with your degree program. Personal fit is also particularly important if you are interested in doing research — you will want to find faculty members whose research interests match your own, so they can most effectively serve as a mentor to you.

Other factors may come into play as well, and it is important to find the program best suited to your priorities, whatever they may be. If I’ve left out anything here that you think is extremely important in choosing an MFT program, please let me know in the comments.

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Comments or recommendations on the decision-making process for prospective students? Feel free to post them in the comments, send to my Twitter feed, or email me at ben[at]bencaldwell[dot]com.

I regret that I can’t tell you which of the programs you’re considering you should choose; that is a subjective decision you should base on the factors above, and anything else important to you personally.

81 thoughts on “The best MFT programs

  1. Hi Ben,

    I’m so glad you chose to address the issue of “personal fit” in your post. I am in the process of selecting an MFT program, and finding very little information out there regarding the type of program best suited to someone interested in exploring nontraditional unions and lifestyles. Obviously, religious institutions should be avoided but are there programs out there that are actively more “progressive” than others? I would prefer a COAMFTE accredited program, and currently live and work in the bay area (where I would prefer to stay).

    Any insight you can provide would be greatly appreciated!

    Thank you,

  2. What is the cost of the MFT program at Alliant? I can’t find info. I am trying to decide between Alliant Irvine and Hope, what do you think? Also do you have any info on the Study Abroad option at Alliant?

  3. @Anonymous (Sept 18 2014) – I agree that CACREP is a good accreditation, and I would happily recommend a CACREP program over one that is neither COAMFTE nor CACREP-accredited. (I also teach as an adjunct at CSU Northridge, which is CACREP-accredited and a very good program). However, CACREP is not as strong as COAMFTE when it comes to MFT licensure; COAMFTE programs are automatically recognized by at least 32 states as meeting educational standards for MFT licensure there, while CACREP is recognized by only seven.

    Two other things worth addressing: On establishing equivalency, it isn’t true that CA’s standards are such that you can establish equivalency in any other state with a CA degree. In fact, our practicum requirements are so low (at 225 hours) that in some states, if you graduated from a California program that only does our state-minimum practicum, you *can’t* establish equivalency, because their state requires more practicum hours.

    And as to plugging Alliant: Yeah, I do that once in a while, but not as often as you make it sound. I looked: In roughly 200 published posts on this blog, I’ve *used the word* Alliant in 19 of them, or about one in every 10. Most of those 19 are just a straight factual mention that I teach there, which I think is important for readers to know so they can see my bias when discussing education-related issues. This post is one of only a handful where I actually plug Alliant. And I would be the first to say we’re expensive, as private institutions usually are. I have other posts here that clearly identify better programs when it comes to cost and for license exam pass rates, and another that talks about available online programs for those who want or need them.

  4. Good info here! Something that everyone should keep in mind about accreditation is that CACREP is a highly respected accreditation too. Also note that CA standards (and NY) are the highest in the country, so it is actually doable to prove equivalency in most other states. Another note is that Alliant, while a great school, is VERY expensive (over $1,000 per unit!). In my opinion, education for a field where you’ll rarely make over $50,000/year should not financially cripple you. Alliant’s programs are great but they’re cash cows for the school. Why do you think this guy (who works there) plugs Alliant all the time? There are several schools with CACREP that cost about $7,000 per year… you weigh the cost. For me, a couple months of proving equivalency is a fair trade to not have $60,000+ in debt when graduating.
    No disrespect meant to Alliant – I just think it’s important to share ALL the info, not just the info that puts your school in a good light.

  5. @Anonymous (June 4) – In order:


    1 – You could complete hours for MFT licensure while working on your doctorate. Whether you should really depends on your individual circumstances and goals.


    2 – Many clinical psychology doctorate programs will admit students with master’s degrees in family therapy. You are not restricted to just MFT doctoral programs.


    3 – As I understand it, whether your degree is considered to be an accredited degree depends on whether the program is accredited as of your graduation date (the degree completion date on your transcript).


    4 – I assume you are referring to a non-COAMFTE masters and COAMFTE-accredited doctorate. Short answer: it depends on the state the person is moving to. Longer answer: Generally speaking, you would be using your master’s degree to establish that you meet the qualifications for MFT licensure in your state. So even if you have a COAMFTE-accredited doctorate, if your master’s is not accredited, then your new home state would treat you as coming in with a non-COAMFTE degree, and check to see whether your master’s meets their equivalency standards. There may be exceptions to this, so it is worth checking with the state to which you may be moving.


    I hope that helps!

  6. Questions:
    If one pursues a PsyD after an MFT should they sit for licensing of MFT prior to PsyD completion . Or should licensing be taken after PsyD is complete.

    If one has an MFT can they pursue a doctorate in a psychology as clinical or general counseling or must it be in MFT PsyD related program.

    If a school becomes COMFTE accreditated after one begins their schooling while they are still a student are they graduating with the COMFTE accreditation.

    If one goes to a non COMFTE school but goes to a PsyD accredited COMFTE school and licenses how is it viewed for portability. Regarding your comments that COMFTE travel better re out of state licensing.

    Thank you ahead of time for your insights

  7. Hi Ben, I’d love to hear your thoughts on SCU’s MFT program. I’d really appreciate if you could share your thoughts on it — thank you!

  8. @Anonymous (5/6/14) – Unfortunately, I’m not in a place to answer whether that path is the right choice for you. Only you are in the position to make that determination.
    Soon after California’s LPCC bill passed, I wrote this post saying that dual licensure wouldn’t be worth it for most California MFTs, and I still think that’s true. However, I also believe (as noted in that post) that your licensure should reflect your professional orientation, and if you think you may move to a different state at some point in your career, having dual licensure (or at least a dually-eligible degree) can be very helpful in ensuring that you can get the stronger license in whatever state you go to.

  9. Hello Ben,

    I have been following your blog for a bit now as so I can keep up with MFT info at all times. I have recently been been debating about the worth of doing a joint MFT/LPCC program at SCU and I was hoping to get a bit of your feedback? It sounds like a lot of time and hard work but I want to make sure that it is the right thing in the long run.

  10. Hi, I’m moving from Georgia to cali for the university of San Francisco master in school counseling with a concentration in marriage and family therapy. Is this program worth the move?

  11. Hello, I, too, am interested in an on-line program due to a possible move to a state with no brick & morter schools offering a Master’s in MFT. However, the AAMFT website now lists two on-line programs as accredited – NCU and Capella. When you say they would not accredit a program that was strictly on-line do you mean with out any hours in a clinic as an intern or practicum student?

    Also, how does a degree from an (accredited) on-line program affect job opportunities post graduation? I see that Chloe’s Couture addressed this concern but don’t know what her qualifications are to answer that question. Thank you.

  12. NCU is the ONLY strictly ONLINE University with a fully accredited COAMFTE program. Excellent school and from what I can tell from the volume of PhD students in the program with NCU the job market isn’t a problem for NCU graduates.

  13. I attend NCU and am in the PhD program. It is a rather expensive route, but the mentors (professors) are quite helpful. The challenge of securing a practicum site is something I hear quite frequently, but I heard similar complaints in my masters program which was at a traditional school.

  14. Hi there,

    I have a question for you regarding the only online MFT Master’s, COAMFTE accredited program that’s also pre-approved for licensure by the California BBS. My question isn’t what your thoughts are on the quality of an online MFT program, but what you’ve heard about it, if anything, and if it matters when getting an internship and a job. My situation is that I was planning to attend USC this Fall but decided against it for the $ factor, and of course I missed the boat on applications for other Master’s programs until next Fall (I’m here in San Diego and my first choice would be Alliant). Northcentral University has the MFT online Masters program that I’m referring to. All the internship and practicum hours are of course done in person in the student’s community. Thoughts on employability with this degree? My goal is to ultimately work in private practice but I have to start somewhere! I appreciate any insight you may have on this topic.

  15. @Amy (8/28/13) – Congratulations on completing licensure! That’s a huge accomplishment.
    You would likely be able to transfer in some of your master’s-level coursework to the Alliant CFT PsyD program. How much would transfer depends on the school you went to, how recently you finished your master’s degree, and how closely your master’s courses line up with ours. But it’s highly unlikely you would be starting from scratch. I hope that helps — feel free to contact me via Alliant email or contact our Admissions office for more info or to arrange a visit!

  16. Hi Ben! I’ve already received my masters and am recently a licensed MFT (as of 12/31/12). I am considering Alliant’s MFT psyd program but am wondering about how it will work since I’ve already completed my masters? Will I have to start all over and do the entire program (since the Masters in MFT is embedded in the program already)? Or will I be able to transfer my coursework and work experience?

  17. Thanks! This has been so helpful in my pursuit of grad school. Btw do you have any thoughts on Santa Clara University’s MFT program?

  18. @Emily- Congratulations on your acceptance! That’s great news. I appreciate your asking about mixed reviews you’ve seen online. I’m biased, of course — I teach for Alliant in LA — but I hope I can still be of some service here.

    First of all, it’s true not just of Alliant, but of any large and challenging program that not all students will be successful. When students struggle in the program, there is a normal and understandable human tendency to blame the program for that. But graduate school is supposed to be hard; if it wasn’t, everyone would do it. I think we’re more challenging than most. That means we produce very strong MFTs (our licensing exam pass rates for the past few years support that), but it’s by no means an easy journey.

    Of course, not all negative reviews should be written off as the complaints of unsuccessful students. We do get substantive concerns as well. Just like all programs have their strengths, all programs also have their weaknesses. Ours are probably largely in three areas: Cost (we’re a nonprofit, but we are a private school and rely heavily on tuition dollars rather than an endowment), workload (60+ units in two years is NOT easy, though students do have the option of a part-time plan if needed), and some faculty teaching styles (students tend to love our core faculty, especially in Irvine, but our adjuncts have gotten mixed reviews; thankfully, we take student course evaluations VERY seriously and when adjunct faculty do not perform well, we don’t bring them back).

    Probably the most important thing to understand is that we do take students’ feedback seriously, and act on it. My hope and belief is that you will have a great experience in Irvine. Again, my congratulations!

  19. Hi Ben,
    I just got my acceptance from Alliant in Irvine. Very exciting but I have been reading mixed reviews about the quality of education they provide there. Do you have any notes about these mixed signals on Alliant. Thanks

  20. @Jessica (3/26/13) – If it’s more of a meet and greet, I wouldn’t expect him to be asking a lot of questions of you; I would, however, go in understanding that the meeting will impact his impression of you, so aim to leave a very positive impression. Bring your questions about the program, but before diving into those, ask whether the meet-and-greet is an appropriate time, or whether those would best be held until a more formal meeting. Different schools and directors might approach that in different ways. Good luck!

  21. Hi Ben,

    Your blog is so helpful! I have a quick question:

    I have a meeting with an MFT program director tomorrow. It’s not an interview, but more of a meet & greet. I wanted to see how you thought I should approach the meeting–as an interview or something more casual? I have questions I would like to ask him about the program, but I’m not sure what information he would want from me. Any suggestions would be much appreciated!

    Thank you!

  22. Thank you for this post! I am in Massachusetts and intending to practice in MA, but I am interested in the MFT program at Fuller in CA. It is accredited, but will I be able to practice in MA? Thank you!

  23. Hello Ben,

    So I just recently decided to switch my masters goal from school counseling to mft. The lack of school counseling jobs from major budget cuts in the school systems scared me. However, I already applied to grad programs for school counseling to begin fall 2013 but, I have changed my mind to MFT. It is now too late to apply to any mft programs for this fall and I really dont want to put off getting my masters another year. But I did see a COAMFTE accredited online program that would allow me to start right away. I was wondering if it would be worth it to begin my mft studies with this program and then transfer to a campus based school, like Alliant. what are your thought? Do credits transfer easily from COAMFTE pogram to Alliant?

  24. Hi Ben,

    Thank you so much for the well explained posting…

    I was wondering if you could help me…

    For the longest time I have been on the fence in picking a program between MFT, LCSW, or a PsyD.

    The MFT curriculum seems to interest me most as I would like to work in mental health and family, but I would also love to get an eclectic training (art therapy, substance abuse, child development, and would even love to take a class or two in forensic psychology just because I find it very fascinating and don’t really know yet which path, within these, I would like to pursue…)

    However, it also seems that getting a SW degree may open more avenues in terms of job placement, paid internship and available opportunities out there so I do wonder if getting a degree in SW is just more logical, even thought the curriculum doesn’t sound as exciting (because of all the public policy classes etc).

    Now, as for the PsyD degree, I do wonder… if it is going to take me 5-6 years to get an MFT degree (fulfilling 3000 hour requirements etc) and PsyD program is 5 years long, doesn’t it make more sense to just go ahead and pursue that instead?

    As for me:

    I am a UCLA graduate. I have my BA in Psychology. I am 34 years old and currently a stay-at-home-mom.
    I live in West Los Angeles (so proximity of campus and practicum is important).
    I have 2 babies (10 month old and a 2.5 year old) so part time options and flexibility is really important.

    I have looked into Antioch, LMU, Pepperdine and Alliant for their MFT programs. (Although Alliant is pretty far for me). I had even been accepted to Alliant’s PsyD program in the past but deferred it. I am currently also looking at UCLA’s SW but unfortunately that is not part time, although the tuition is very attractive.

  25. Hi Ben,

    I am applyng to Alliant’s PsyD CFT program. I am really interested in the course work and I am looking to one day start my own practice. However, I do also want to teach. I am concerned that I will have a hard time finding a job if I do not get my Doctorate in Clinical Psychology. Is this somethng I should be concerned with? I guess I did not really think about it until a friend of mine in the Alliant PsyD in Clinical asked me this question: “why do you want to put all of that time into a PsyD and not become a licensed Psychologist?” I was not concerned until I heard that. Is a PsyD in CFT going to make me less credible in private practice and academia? Thank you so much your posts have been very helpful.

  26. @Anonymous (Oct 3) – While CACREP is strong accreditation, and recognized in a number of states, I wouldn’t believe the previous comment in the absence of any data to support it. In my experience, COAMFTE-accredited programs will prefer to hire faculty who came from COAMFTE-accredited doctoral programs, and it’s actually a CACREP requirement that CACREP-accredited schools hire faculty with CACREP-accredited doctorates.

  27. Although COAMFTE is a great accreditation, CACREP now seems to be the highest level accreditation with the highest numbers of graduates passing the licensure the first time. Accreditation is also something that one must look into depending on individual goals. For instance, if a person is working on a PhD in order to become a full time professor, CACREP is the way to go since most universities seem to accept more CACREP applicants than any other accreditations.

  28. hello,
    I have been accepted into CSUF’s Master of Counseling Program and now am having second thoughts about it. Do students go through MFT programs and decide not to get their license in the end. Are there other opportunities available after completion of the program without aiming for the MFT license?

  29. Hi Ben, excellent blog. I am currently a second year MFT Master’s student at Valdosta State University in Georgia. At first, I considered pursuing a ph.d degree in clinical psychology, and then MEDICAL MFT, but at this point I am doing a comparison of both and I’m confused. I would like to know which would yield more gains based on salary, and less limitations of what I can do as a therapist. Also, if I do decide to pursue a Ph.d in clinical psychology do you think I should pursue some medical or clinical courses now that would make my path less strenuous. I have heard many bloggers state that having a Master’s in MFT reduces your chances of being accepted in a Ph.d clinical psychology program. What do you think? Also, how do you feel about MFT’s who pursue Physician Assistant programs.

  30. Hi Ben, Thank you for your awesome blog. I am looking into Hope International University’s MFT program b/c of its COAMFTE accredidation. I am fine to go to a Christian school however I am worried that they might push their ideoligies on me. Do you know what people’s experience has been at Hope in this regard? Or, do you know of good online forums that discuss it? Thank you for your time, Ben.

    • I am an undergrad from HIU (Human Development) and took two M.Ed classes. As for the undergrad I did have 3 Biblical courses. Most of my other coursework didn’t have much about Christianity. My two M.Ed classes didn’thave any religious material. I hope this helps!

  31. As many others, I first want to thank you for your blog! It is a golden mine for anybody who needs accurate information about MFT programs. It helped me narrow down my options to hopefully make the right program choice for me.
    As for my question, someone already asked you but I couldn’t find your answer here, so I am sorry if it’s repetitive.
    Do you think that the program/university you graduate from will influence getting a job in the field (prestigious universities = easier to find a job/better jobs)? I would think it does…but what do I know! 🙂
    Again, your help is so so appreciated, thank you!

  32. Hi Ben,

    I’m a military spouse greatly desiring to become a LMFT, but am having the hardest time finding programs that are COAMFTE accredited near areas that we could be stationed. I understand that a COAMFTE degree is essential if I desire to work for the Dept of Veteran Affairs (all of the jobs I’ve seen on requires it anyway) and since that would probably be the best opportunities for me to find a job in the future I want to be sure to be able to meet their education requirments. However, I’m curious if there’s a way around it. For example, the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs is regionally accredited and their counseling program is CACREP accredited; the University of Northern Colorado at Denver is the same. Would it be acceptable to them to get your counseling degree from a place that is only regionally and CACREP accredited and then get your MFT certification from another university that is COAMFTE accredited?

    Thank you for your input!

  33. I just recently applied to Azusa Pacific University’s Clinical Psychology program for MFT and am unsure if they are COAMFTE accredited. Would you happen to know where I can find that kind of information? I haven’t seen COAMFTE anywhere on their website and am growing quite nervous about the program now, because of it.

  34. As a graduate of Masters Program and a doctoral COAMFTE program (Iowa State which soon will be no more) I am thankful that I was exposed to more than just MFT. I had already practiced for 9 plus years between and going back for the Ph.D. led me to develop other skills such as research.

    What was MOST helpful though was the opportunity to expand what I could do through the “extra-curicular” activities. As a result I got to to applied research — consulting with an international manufacturing firm — and added consulting to my toolkit. This consulting role has brought me more income, stability, and freedom than I had as a Masters or Doctoral therapist.

    If I was starting again I’d look at the whole package. What can I learn to DO not just can I get trained and licensed. Now I publish, blog, teach, consult . . . all part of a multi-service business: Human Systems Consulting. The private practice is now only part time and a percentage of my career work–it ay be an even smaller part as national health care expands.

    Bryan Miller
    Author of Beyond the Couch

  35. @Anonymous (April 4) – I’m afraid I can’t be much help here, because the answer would vary widely depending on the program being considered. Some programs are *highly* selective, admitting only a handful of students each year from hundreds of applicants; a very high GPA and at least some volunteer or work experience relevant to the field would be essential to even be strongly considered. Other programs are much more lenient and admit a much greater proportion of applicants, placing a greater emphasis on personal motivation and fit for the field. There’s a wide spectrum in between. But it’s safe to say that volunteering over the summer can help significantly, and won’t hurt. Good luck!

  36. Hi Ben!

    I was wondering if you could provide me with some insight on the competition involved in getting into a MFT program. I know competition varies from school to school, but I’m hoping if you could give me some idea on how much volunteer/research experience I need. I’m currently a 4th year in college with a 3.6 GPA. I plan to apply to graduate school in Fall/Spring 2013. The only counseling experience I have is working as a peer advisor (I basically counsel fellow students on what courses to take towards graduation), but I hope to do some internships and volunteer work at local women shelters or hotlines over the summer. Thanks! 😀

  37. How important is the school you attend for getting a job within the field? I am currently deciding between at MFT programs some more prestigious universities (not necessarily the programs) and lesser known but smaller universities.

  38. @Anonymous – An MA and PsyD are degrees, not licenses, so you can’t get “licensed as a PsyD.” You can license as either an MFT or Psychologist. Are you saying that in May you will have your masters degree in MFT, or that you will have your MFT license?

    In any case, the Alliant PsyD in MFT (I’m presuming you’re talking about Alliant, please correct me if I am mistaken) gives you the option to license as a Psychologist in California — but most of our graduates license as MFTs, and it has gotten harder to license as a Psychologist in other states without an APA-accredited degree.

    For me personally, getting my PsyD in MFT rather than Clinical Psychology has not in any way limited my ability to do the things I have wanted to do in practice. In fact, it was a better choice for me. I’ve talked about this in some more detail here: Should you pursue a doctorate in MFT?

    I hope that helps! For additional specific information on our programs, please feel free to contact me by email.

  39. Hi Ben. I am torn between the SD clinical psyd and LA mft psyd. I am wondering about the differences. I will have my mft in may of this year. Will the MFT psyd be a license in MFT or do I have an option to get licensed as a psyd or is that not how it works? Do you believe getting a psyd in mft has limited your opportunities compared to those with a clinical psyd? Thank you.

  40. To the last two anonymous commenters: CACREP accreditation is to Counseling programs (and LPC licensure) what COAMFTE accreditation is to MFT programs (and MFT licensure). If you want to ultimately license as a Counselor, I would recommend attending a counseling program accredited through CACREP. If you want to license as an MFT, I would suggest attending an MFT program accredited through COAMFTE. Neither is better or worse than the other, but they are different. Ideally, just be sure your licensure and accreditation match; if you want to work for the Veterans Administration, you need a COAMFTE-accredited degree to work for them as an MFT; you need a CACREP-accredited degree to work for them as a counselor.

  41. Hello Ben, I came across your blog, I am currently an exceptional student education major looking into applying for a mft degree, after talking to one of my psychology teachers she suggested CACREP accredited programs. What I am wondering is would you say that either CACREP or COAMFTE is better than the other? or either one would do fine. Currently I am looking at two schools CSU Northridge campus (CACREP) and UMASS Boston (COAMFTE) and I just dont know which one would be a better choice.

    Thank you in advance,


  42. Thanks for all of your helpful information! Do you have any comments or views about the clinical experience education of the MFT programs in Oregon? I am interested in University of Oregon (Eugene), Portland State in Portland and Lewis & Clark. They are all accredited by either COAMFTE or CACREP. Is one accreditation better for an MFT?

  43. @Anonymous (1/18/12) – The BBS has said the average is more like four years, but there is a wide range and it depends on a lot of factors. 3,000 hours is roughly equivalent to two years of full-time experience. Some people who do a year of practicum are ready for the exams after just over a year as an intern; others take six years or more. Much depends on your chosen work setting.

  44. Hello Ben thank you for your blog, it has been very helpful. I had a question, typically how many years does it take to complete the 3,000 hours. I keep hearing that after grad school you usually take 2 more years to complete the hours. Is this true? Thank you.

  45. Hi Ben,
    Thank you so much for creating this blog. You have shed so much light on areas I have been in the dark about! Sincerely, you are appreciated.

    I am in the last quarters of my MFT program at John F. Kennedy University and am looking into a Doctorate program. I am applying to Alliant in SF but unfortunately they do not have the MFT focus at that campus. I have a question for you about licensing and doctoral programs.

    Licensing – Do the hours of experience for an MFT license double count when one is also pursuing the Psychologist license? I understand they do for the LPCC but I’m wondering if I will need 6000 hours to become a licensed MFT and Psychologist, or if there can be some overlap.

    Programs – I have recently discovered an EdD in Counseling Psychology at Argosy University’s SF campus. I haven’t heard much about Argosy (good or bad) but the EdD sounds right up my alley as far as alignment with my career goals. I’m a non-traditional student (I work a FT corporate job, have 3 kids under the age of 5, yadda-yadda-yadda) so the flexibility of that program is attractive. Have you any insight to Argosy’s reputation? Aside from that, what are your thoughts on perusing the EdD opposed to the PsyD or PhD?

    Thanks again for your time!

  46. @Anonymous (Sept. 4, 2011) – I’m glad you had a good experience at the Alliant interview, and I can certainly understand your anxiety around taking out significant student loans. I’m grateful that there are now a number of state and federal MFT loan reimbursement programs that can significantly bring down that cost.
    To answer your questions about Alliant’s couple and family therapy program: Acceptance to our PsyD program is not guaranteed if you completed your MA with us, but it can help that you would be a known quantity to our faculty. If you do well in your MA program, that certainly helps your chances of getting into the PsyD program.
    If your goal is to enter into private practice, the PsyD does not put you on a faster track for that; you’ll be able to obtain licensure faster if you just do an MA and then focus on getting the experience hours toward your MFT license done as quickly as possible. Now, I do believe that completing a doctorate made me a better clinician; it did not speed up licensure, though, and more typically slows it down.
    Typical schedules vary; we have some students who work as well as attending the program; some students primarily attend daytime classes, while others opt for night; and most students are full-time, but some are considered part time based on class load.
    You’re welcome to email me with any other questions you have, and I hope this was helpful!

  47. Hi Ben,

    I was accepted to Alliant’s MFT in San Diego. I decided to differ a year due to a lack of confidence in taken out large loans for this program. The faculty seemed to really like me and I did feel wanted and cared for during the interview, unless I’m mistaken, you came to my table. The campus is also in my ideal location to live in san diego (scripps ranch). I have been going back and forth considering retaking my GRE’s to go to a more recognized program. I do appreciate the fact that the program is accredited and specifically want to pursue a PSYD.

    Is acceptance to the PSYD program pretty much guaranteed if you do your MA at Alliant? Will the PSYD lead to a faster track to opening my own practice? What is the typical schedule like during the day? It would be great to hear any additional advice.

  48. Ben,

    I just found your blog and I have to tell you how helpful is!! I just recently decided that I wanted to pursue a Masters in MFT so all of your insights are really valuable.

    I seem two problems that I was hoping you could provide some feedback on.

    1. I am not sure where I want to settle down and eventually practice so I was thinking of applying to schools in a couple of different states that interest me and looking at the programs themselves….is that a going to hinder me greatly? If I decide to move after I finish school, will taking the licesing exam for a different state be a huge hassle?

    2. My second problem is that I am currently living in Africa and most likely will not be home until March but I want to apply for Fall 2012. I can do all the applications online but I have not taken the GRE. Should I stick to just applying to schools that don’t require it?

    Any and all insight is GREATLY appreciated!!


  49. I was recently accepted into Pacfic Oaks MFT Program. Any feedback on this school from anyone would be greatly appreciated. Thank you

  50. Ben, your blog is very helpful for young recent graduates like me.

    I have a question: I’m currently interested in solely doing psychotherapy and counseling (obviously a masters degree seems to be the logical choice here), but I’m hesitant to lock my career path on such a narrow path. I want to be able to have the choice to change my career path sometime in the future if I decide counseling isn’t for me. Specifically in going for a Doctorate in Psychology.

    If I decide to get a masters for the meantime, but decide to get a Psy.D in another after some time, what are the chances that the classes/hours I dedicated for my masters transfer over to earning my Psy.D?

    Ex: Masters @ SDSU or Bethel, but deciding to get my Psy.D in Alliant.

    Thanks Ben!
    – Joe

  51. @acquilla – While I can’t really answer whether it’s a “good” move, if you return to Texas after graduation (from a COAMFTE-accredited program) and then do your prelicensed experience in Texas, you should be in good shape for Texas licensure. Just make sure when you’re doing your practicum during your masters program that you document those hours in accordance with Texas standards as well as Georgia standards. And of course, keep an eye on Texas standards, as licensing in all states changes over time.

  52. I live in Texas and I am applying to Mercer State University which is AAMFT accredited but it is in Georgia. However, I plan to move back to Texas when I am fully done with my masters degree at Mercer. I notice you saying that it is best to attend a school where you intend to live. Do you think this is a good move for me? Thanks.

  53. @Anonymous re: Hope vs. CSUF: Of those two, only Hope International is COAMFTE-accredited. So that should be a consideration, though how much weight you give to it is up to you. Both are strong programs, at least by reputation. One other thing you may want to look at is the structure of the program; I’m not immediately sure how Hope is structured, but I believe CSUF is a counseling program that tacks on an MFT emphasis at the end. (That’s how most of the CSU schools do it, as I understand it.) The structure of the program often says a lot about how the program thinks about the profession.

  54. @shaletastar – Yes, with a number of caveats. It’s still possible, but has gotten significantly more difficult over the past few years as California has tightened its restrictions around psychologist licensing and APIC/CAPIC-accredited internships. If you’re interested in licensing as a psychologist coming out of Alliant’s MFT PsyD program, you would want to make sure the faculty is aware of this from the beginning of your program, so that you could be effectively mentored through the process. Most of our MFT PsyD graduates license as MFTs.

  55. I applied for 2 MFT programs, one at Hope University and the other one at CSUF. Now I have been accepted to both, but the big difference is the price. Any advice? I want to make sure they are both accredited for license process, and I want to make sure they have quality programs. I would not like to base my decision on tuition fees, but it is hard to choose.

  56. Hi Ben,

    Can you please comment on schools like Chicago Professional School of Psychology? What are some pros and cons of such professional schools aside from the fact that they are not nationally recognized.

  57. Hi Ben,
    I live in Vancouver, and I am considering of getting into a MFT program. Since Canada does not require licensure for marriage therapists, do you think it matters for me to get into a COAMFTE-accredited program or not? Also, most accredited MFT programs are only offered in the States, do you know any schools in Canada or online schools that offer COAMFTE-accredited programs?

    Thank you!

    Love your blog,

  58. I like your list of things to consider when choosing MFT grad school but I cannot find your actual list of the schools. Did it get buried somewhere? Please advise. Thanks.

  59. Hi ben, i have already completed some of my PhD hours at a university in Texas. I took a break for personal reasons and am now ready to go back and finish. However, due to some changes at the university that i dont agree with and a change in their direction as a program, i am looking into other programs. I am having trouble getting a feel for the programs i am researching. I am looking for a program that strongly emphasizes the works of the founders, one that is highly systemic, and would love to find a program with a professor that solely uses SFT. Any suggestions on specific programs or how to find what i am looking for would be appreciated!

  60. Thanks so much!!!!! I need direction. I have a MSW in Social Work. Due to a job related injury I am working with the Dept of Rehabilitation, therefore I am now pursuing a MFT. I attend a small college in Pasadena and considering transferring to Cal State Dominguez Hills. However some what familiar with Alliant. I am a volunteer with IVAT and work closely with that team of professionals(love them)… So I wish to learn more about your program and my opportunity to transfer!!!!! My goal is to continue on to the graduate program!!!!!!! Please Advise!

  61. Short answer – in California, COAMFTE accreditation is not necessary for MFT licensure. That, together with the fact that accreditation is a difficult and time-consuming process (and it requires a good deal of self-examination, which can be uncomfortable for programs), is often reason enough for programs not to pursue it.

    There are, at present, seven COAMFTE-accredited programs in California (Alliant, Loma Linda, Chapman, Hope International, San Diego State, University of San Diego, and Bethel Seminary). I’m working on a more detailed post on the benefits of accreditation, so keep an eye out for that in the next couple of weeks!

  62. Hi Ben, thank you for your blog. I am applying to MFT programs now and I have been reading your blog a lot. In fact, I checked out was Alliant International in Irvine yesterday. What you say about choosing a COAMFTE-accredited program makes sense. What I don’t understand is why only 6 schools in California are accredited if its so important. Why do so many California schools with good reputations in clinical psychology not COAMFTE accredited? Thanks.

  63. OK, so why would anyone not go to a COAMFTE program? It seems like a no-brainer to me. But of course, since there aren’t many programs, I imagine they are quite competitive. I will be contacting the program in Sac for some info. I was hoping the San Fran program could be a possibility, but it’s not looking good. Unless you know somthing you’d like to share… Thank you so much for all that you do. You are making the process so much easier for me.

  64. AAMFT’s web site hosts the complete list of COAMFTE-accredited programs. As of now, Alliant International University in Sacramento is the only COAMFTE program in Northern CA. I think it’s a great program, but then, I’m entirely biased – I work for Alliant in San Diego, and helped us launch the MFT program in Sacramento. Check it out, make contact with the local admissions staff, and schedule some time to talk with faculty — that should give you a good sense of whether it’s a good fit for you!

  65. Thank you, thank you, thank you! I can’t believe how lucky I was to find your blog. I am in the process of choosing a MFT program in CA. I will be living in Sonoma, but not for two years. Can you share with me the COAMFTE accredited schools in Northern Cal? I believe this was your recommendation. Any info would be greatly appreciated!

  66. @Jake – I wholeheartedly agree that we have some great programs in California that are not COAMFTE-accredited. And for students who license in California and stay in California, the accreditation of their program may not matter much. But let me offer three reasons why it shouldn’t be dismissed as inconsequential:
    (1) Graduates of COAMFTE-accredited programs have a better pass rate on California’s MFT licensing exams than graduates of non-COAMFTE programs. The difference is not huge — about 4 or 5 percentage points — but it is significant. (I have an article in press at JMFT on this.)
    (2) Graduates of COAMFTE-accredited programs move farther, faster through the licensure process. I presented a poster on the topic at last year’s AAMFT Annual Conference. At my program (Alliant), most of our students graduate with 800-1,000 hours toward licensure already completed. Graduates of programs that only require the state minimum of practicum hours (currently 180 as I recall) will have to spend much longer working as interns before they get licensed — and will graduate with far less supervision under their belts, making them less well-qualified for jobs.
    (3) Life happens. Even people who don’t plan to leave California often wind up leaving California, for family, work, or other reasons. If you do need to move, better to have a degree that you can easily take across state lines than to have one that may require you to prove it is “COAMFTE equivalent” — if the state you move to even allows that.

  67. Hi Ben,

    You said:

    “As I’ve previously documented, MFT accreditation matters”

    While it may matter a bit in terms of degree portability, does it truly matter all that much? Compare the CA list of accredited schools that have MFT programs ( ) with the list of COAMFTE accredited schools ( ).

    There are many private and state schools with good reputations of which do not have the COAMFTE accreditation. While I definitely wouldn’t get a MFT degree from a for-profit school such as Phoenix, there are some great schools on that list that probably have awesome MFT programs.

    Like your blog,

  68. @Diana – Hard for me to be much help here since I don’t know the particulars of your situation, and a lot of this is dependent on your personal goals. That said, when this comes up with Alliant students, I tend to offer the following advice:
    Consider what you want to do. If you want to teach, or be a researcher, or specialize in testing, you are best off with a doctorate. (To specialize in testing, the doctorate should be in Psychology; for teaching and research, it could be Psychology or MFT.) If you want to do psychotherapy, the added expense of the doctorate may not be worth it — your scope of practice as an MFT allows you to do psychotherapy very broadly.
    Now, if you know you want to pursue a doctorate but are worried about the finances, consider this: It’s a good investment. I’ve addressed this in a more recent blog post about CAMFT’s “Typical MFT” survey — note that the incomes of those with doctorates are higher than those with masters degrees, and are continuing to rise. Yes, you’ll want to be aware of when you might max out on federal loans, but there is a reason why most lenders view student loan debt as “good debt” — if you complete your education, you tend to make that money back many times over.
    Again, I don’t know your particulars, so don’t take this as legal or financial advice; I’m not qualified to give it. But I do hope that offers some useful things to think about.

  69. Hi Ben, your blog was very helpful. I just wanted to ask you some advice…I’m in an MFT program at Pepperdine and might want to go the PsyD track later. But money is a concern, I’m not sure how I’ll finance that, I’ll still have my loans for my Masters before I jump into a PsyD. That being said, should I stick with the MFT program or switch into the regular MA Psych track? Since you’ve already been there and are in practice, you know a lot more than me! Which path would be more practical and affordable in your opinion? Thank you 🙂

  70. @raalex: I’m skeptical of online programs. Note that is different from being skeptical of online education, which I think can be done extremely effectively. However, programs that are all-online or even mostly-online lack the direct, person-to-person physical presence necessary to effectively develop and evaluate a student’s therapy skills (which themselves involve direct, person-to-person physical presence).

    COAMFTE’s position on online education takes a similar stance. Programs that are COAMFTE accredited can deliver some of their education online, but the commission will not accredit any online-only program.

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